WaterAid: June 2020

Name and type of organisation: WaterAid (registered charity no. 288701)

Fundraising method: Direct marketing via post

Code themes examined: Supporter data and complaint handling

Code breach? No

The complaint

The complainant had stopped supporting WaterAid (the charity) in 2016 because of its repeated requests for further donations. The complainant said that they started to receive requests for donations again in 2019. They contacted the charity in September 2019 to ask it to stop contacting them, but received further correspondence in October 2019.

What happened?

When the complainant was a donor of the charity between 2013 and 2016, they returned mail on four occasions with a note asking it not to send any further correspondence. The charity had a record of the complainant opting out of telephone and email contact in 2013 and 2016 respectively. The charity did not retain records of what communication channel these requests came by and acknowledged that there could have been a misunderstanding when it recorded its ‘no emails’ block on the complainant’s supporter record in 2016. However, the charity had no record of the complainant opting out of postal contact prior to September 2019.

When the charity received the complaint on 13 September 2019, in which the complainant asked the charity to stop sending them direct marketing, it put a data protection block on their supporter record. However, this was too late to prevent the complainant from receiving its final mailing in October 2019, which was already in production. The charity did not keep a copy of its complaint response.

As a result of the complaint the charity committed to:

  • retain a copy of personalised complaint responses;
  • record further detail when it receives any communication preference requests, which it said had been implemented with immediate effect; and
  • review its internal and external complaints policies.

The complainant understood from a telephone conversation they had with the charity that it cannot separate donor data that it is required to keep for HMRC about donors who made donations with Gift Aid, from donor data it keeps for direct marketing purposes. The complainant was concerned by this. The complainant has donations with Gift Aid applied going back to 2016. The charity said that HMRC require it to keep these details for six years, so it cannot delete the complainant’s supporter record, but their details would be anonymised after this time. The charity believed that there was no requirement to have separate databases for Gift Aid purposes and for direct marketing, but rather to readily exclude supporters from direct marketing at their request, as it had done in this case.

Our decision

We recognised the complainant’s concern and frustration when they received further mailings after they informed the charity of their wishes. However, we were unable to make any findings about the complainant’s earlier requests asking the charity to stop contacting them as we did not have enough information about them.

We found that the charity acted appropriately following the complaint it received in September 2019 by putting a data protection block on the complainant’s supporter record. Although this was too late to prevent the complainant from receiving its final mailing in October 2019, the charity acted to cease processing their data for direct marketing purposes within 28 days of the request, which is in line with the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code).

We acknowledged the complainant’s feelings of harassment after receiving the charity’s final mailing. However, we found that the charity had not engaged in unreasonably persistent fundraising. We also found that the charity had not breached two areas of the code about personal data and direct marketing.

We found that the charity responded appropriately to the telephone complaint in October 2019. Although the charity responded promptly to the complaint in September 2019, it failed to keep a copy of its response. We were concerned by this lack of record keeping. However, given its assurances that a template letter is always used, and that we know the complainant did receive a letter from the charity, on balance, we found that the charity had not breached the complaint handling section of the code. We also noted that the charity appeared to have taken learning from this complaint to improve its future fundraising practice by acknowledging the gaps in its record keeping.




There are no actions for the charity.